ESV 1 John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
As God’s people, we can be grateful that we can have confidence that we have eternal life in Christ Jesus! We can be grateful that those who are truly believers will never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus- -NOTHING—absolutely NOTHING can separate you from His love for you!! (Romans 8:31-39; John 10:28-30). As believers, we can truly be joyful and confident in God’s love for us in Christ, and so gain assurance of our salvation. Those who have an assurance of salvation through believing God’s promises in His Word, and through the work of the Holy Spirit can live with “joy in expressible and full of glory!” (1 Peter 1:8).
Our Reformed forefather, Thomas Brooks said of assurance of salvation: “Assurance is glory in the bud, it is the suburbs of paradise, it is a cluster of the land of promise, it is a spark of God, it is the joy and crown of a Christian” (Heaven on Earth; a favorite book by many Reformed Christians!).
The Bible teaches us that assurance is a fruit of our faith in Jesus Christ, but assurance does not necessarily belong to the essence of faith. One can be a believer with a little smidgen of faith; one can be a true believer in Christ with the slightest and smallest faith because they are taking hold of a great Christ! Salvation is about the greatness of Christ and His saving power, and willingness to save the repentant, not about how much faith we have (“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”)! But a true Christian must expect to grow up in their faith through believing, and through trials and temptations be tested, and because of this, they sometimes may have to wait a long time to be fully convinced and assured of their salvation. One who does not have assurance of salvation might still be a Christian, but they cannot experience the fullness of joy and confidence of one who does have assurance.
Assurance of salvation is a fruit of our faith in Jesus, and it grows out of our faith. Assurance of salvation in Christ comes out of faith growing up and maturing in our walk with God (notice the goal of biblical teaching and preaching is to grow up in Ephesians 4:11-16 so that a Christian will not be tossed around).
As pastor, you may have heard me say that if you’re living in sin you may be a Christian who has fallen into temptation and sin, but you cannot be assured that you are a Christian. It is important to make this distinction between our faith in Christ as we confess and profess, and the assurance that we can gain in Christ as we grow in Him through our obedience.
Obedience in the Christian life is in no way meritorious, but it is a concrete manifestation of the faith that we claim to have in Christ. As Paul says we are saved by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone; we are saved by God through faith alone, but it is a faith that works (compare the works that are forbidden for salvation, and the works that are necessary for salvation in Ephesians 2:9-10. Paul says that we are saved by grace apart from works in Eph. 2:9, and then He tells us that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works as an outworking of this salvation). James says that if you have faith, show it in your obedient works (James 2:19ff; essentially James says, “If you truly believe, then prove it by showing Christ’s power in your life”).
Our Scripture from 1 John 5:13 tells us that the Apostle John wrote His first epistle to the churches so that they would have assurance of God’s love for them in Christ: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
But how do we know? How do we get assurance of God’s love? How can you have assurance and the joy and confidence in Christ that comes from it?
The Apostle John tells us in the same letter (and we will be going through the Epistles of John seeking to better understand assurance of salvation in our evening services beginning in the fall). Notice what John writes before this statement of assurance in chapter 5. In this passage, John says we can know that we KNOW HIM. But how do we know that we KNOW HIM??!!.
ESV 1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandment.
ESV 1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
ESV 1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him…
ESV 1 John 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
We can know that we know HIM, but how do we know that we know HIM? John tells us four important ways (1) Loving Obedience to Jesus: “We know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandment.” Jesus said: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (2) Love to Our Brothers: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love other Christians.” (3) Fruit of the Spirit: “By [loving in deed/action and in truth] we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him.” (4) Witness of the Spirit of God: “By this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
We must acknowledge that there are lots of hypocrites and unregenerate persons in the church who presume that they are in an estate of salvation, although they show no evidence that they have had any work of grace in their hearts; this is true of the visible churches of Christ for all time (see the visible Church of Jesus’ day, and how Jesus’ rebukes the Pharisees and scribes for horrible hypocrisy, Matthew 23)!! Therefore because we know that our hearts can deceive us, and that there are truly hypocrites, and that we can easily play the hypocrite, we must seek to examine ourselves as Scripture teaches us:
ESV 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
You should never want me as your pastor, nor anyone else to ever grant you assurance in the faith if you are not living by faith. To give assurance to one who may not be a Christian is to condemn them to hell. What might be just a weak and tender conscience having trouble believing God could love them, could also be an unregenerate person being moved by the Spirit to believe. Because we can’t be sure, we must go on what the Bible teaches as true evidence. Again, notice the Apostle John’s teaching of how you know that you know HIM, or how you know that you truly know Jesus: (1) Obedience to Jesus; (2) Love to Our Brothers; (3) Fruit of the Spirit; (4) Witness of the Spirit of God (also Romans 8:13-26).
If you’re living unrepentantly right now in a sin, it may be that you’re a Christian who has fallen into a trap and you need immediate help, but you are not one who can be joyful and confident that you are in Christ because you’re living contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, and contrary to the reality that you have died to sin as believers have according to Romans 6-8 (this is not the work of the Spirit, why would you have assurance from the Spirit?). You do not need anyone to assure you first; God may be making you feel guilty in your conscience to inform you of grieving the Spirit and calling you to repentance. It may be that you need to be told to examine yourself to see if you be in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:10; every approach to the Lord’s Table each worship service is an opportunity provided for you to examine: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”– 1 Corinthians 11:28).
One is to examine themselves often to see if they have faith, as the Apostle Peter teaches us from not only the inspiration of the Spirit of God, but also from his own experience of losing his own assurance of God’s love in Christ when he denied his loving Lord. I encourage you to read carefully 2 Peter 1:3-10. Notice how God has provided all that we need for life and godliness as Christians in Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:3-4). In light of this reality, we are to believe God’s promises and so add to our faith, allowing it to grow up and mature into more assurance (2 Pet. 1:5-7). If we do this, living by faith in God’s promises and the Spirit’s power, then we will be prevented from “ineffectiveness” and “unfruitfulness” in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Pet. 1:8). Whoever does not have these qualities is as if they are blind, and has not been cleansed from sin (as if, that is they may be Christians, but they live inconsistently), and so it is important in order to reach assurance of our salvation the great joy and confidence in Christ that comes with it, to be “more diligent to make our calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:9-11).
ESV 2 Peter 1:3-10: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is true that you can truly be a Christian, but if you are living in sin, you may not have assurance. In fact, if you are living in sin, the first step towards growing in your faith, and gaining assurance of salvation and the joy and confidence in Jesus that comes with it, is to first confess your sins to God, knowing God is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-2:2). Now turn from your sins by the grace and power of Christ; believe God’s promises that in Jesus you can and will bear good fruit that will last (John 15:1ff; Gal. 5:19ff). As confessing Christians seeking assurance, we need to daily repent of our sins, turning from the sins that we see in our thoughts, actions, behavior, and turning to God for forgiveness, strength and the grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers have been united to Jesus Christ by faith (Romans 6), and therefore we are to live for him and we are to live like him in this world.
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Assurance can be hard work. It is the hard and agonizing work of working out our salvation with fear and trembling, yet knowing that anything we accomplish is because of God’s working in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Let us seek to have the faith of Hebrews 11 as believers, growing up in our faith to assurance!
Assurance was described by our Reformed forefathers this way: “Assurance is the beauty and top of a Christian’s glory in this life. It is usually attended with the strongest joy, with the sweetest comforts, and with the greatest peace. It is a crown that few wear” (Thomas Brooks, Works, Vol. 2, 333). “Assurance comes as a reward of faith….A man’s faith must fight first, and have a conquest, and then assurance is the crown, the triumph of faith…and what tries faith more than temptation, and fears, and doubts, and reasonings against a man’s own estate? That triumphing assurance, Romans 8:37-39…comes after a trial, as none are crowned till they have striven” (Thomas Goodwin, Works, Vol. 8, 346).
Seek Christ Jesus and you will find assurance through the Spirit’s help. Remember it is the Spirit of God who not only regenerates us and unites us with Christ in our new births, it is the Spirit of God who empowers us to live for Christ and become like Christ, resisting our sins, the flesh and the devil, and growing up into our salvation in Jesus. It is the Spirit of God who witnesses with our Spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:15-26). If children, then we are heirs, and we should live as in the very suburbs of heaven, rejoicing in Christ no matter what difficulty, trial or tribulation, knowing that it will only strengthen our endurance, hope and assurance (Romans 5:1-5).
For further study with the family, see Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 18: Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation
Love in Christ,